Today we start our look at a look back: Star Trek nostalgia in all its forms. Why is it that nostalgia for all things Trek (even for those who weren’t alive during Trek’s original run) has become a common thread in online forums? And how has the fandom changed since the 1960’s? In Part One of the three part series Remember Me, Trekmovie’s Jared Whitley sat down with J.D. Payne (co-writer of the 2016 Star Trek movie), Mission Log Podcast’s John Champion, SF Debri’s Chuck Sonnenberg, and more to discuss how the changing TV landscape and our ever increasing connectivity with other fans has changed the way we watch new TV and discuss classic shows. Hit the jump for Part One.
JD Payne’s first encounter with Star Trek was the TNG episode, “Frame of Mind.” If you’re too busy to follow that link to Memory Alpha, it’s the one where Riker thinks he’s going crazy.
Take a seat – we could be here for a while
“I remember feeling like I’d stumbled into this hidden gold-mine of awesome stories,” said Payne, who is one of the screenwriters for the next Star Trek movie. “It was something I had discovered on my own, at a crucial point in early adolescence, that shaped me profoundly.”
After that, Payne poured himself into the series, recording episodes as they aired back-to-back late on UPN, then editing out commercials with a dual-deck VHS player for his own Trek archive. He got an episode guide and checked them off as he went.
So like all true fans of Star Trek, he showed more dedication to it than most graduate students do their coursework.
Scrupulously recording episodes wasn’t uncommon among Trek fans back in the day, but it’s not necessary in the DVD/Netflix/Memory Alpha world. Easy access to archived information is one of the things fueling the current era of Internet nostalgia. In the olden days, if you wanted to see Q vs. Spock you would have to go to a convention with John De Lancie and Leonard Nimoy. Nowadays you just go here:
This video is so old I think they make some Y2K jokes.
“Nostalgia for everything is strong, no matter what,” said John Champion, co-host of the Trek podcast Mission Log. “People are able to express what they’re into, have online discussions, and very easily find these subjects that they want to share.”
Of course that nostalgia is pronounced among Star Trek fans, probably because Trek fans didn’t have the capacity to discuss their shows online the next day – certainly not like you can nowadays with Game of Thrones or even like you could with Lost a few years ago.
Don’t tell me what I can’t cloak!
“There’s also been a cultural movement that being a geek, and I mean that in the best possible meaning of the word – just someone passionate about a topic – is kind of an accepted, cool thing now,” Champion continued. “If it’s sports or science fiction or Harry Potter, you can find people who accept you for that because they’re into it too.”
In 1994, only a few people were talking online at all – and even then there were no Wikis, no subreddits, no meme generators, and no video-sharing sites. So if you’d like to reach back into your past to ask how the same people who made “All Good Things” could have followed it up with Star Trek: Generations, check out a merciless review of the film by Red Letter Media. Or Confused Matthew. Or Linkara. Or SF Debris. Or The Agony Booth. Or The Nostalgia Critic.
Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.
The online sophistication necessary for tech savvy Star Trek fans to dissect movies and TV shows has been around for a while. But 10 years ago, Star Trek fans weren’t hurrying to the Internet on Monday mornings to talk about Star Trek – they were talking about Battlestar Galactica.
“The TV landscape at the time was weird,” Champion explains. “Galactica, getting 3-4 million viewers, was considered a massive breakout hit for SyFy. Enterprise‘s lowest was 3-4 million and it was considered a failure for UPN. The perceived success of the two series has to do more with expectations of the network landscape of the time than it has to do with the inherent size of the audience. Enterprise was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
As such, Trek fans are making up for lost time by reaching back to the previous shows, notably TNG.
“TNG is seen as the flagship series of that era,” said Chuck Sonnenberg, host of SF Debris. “That’s why I think it’s still in the public consciousness outside the Trek community, people growing up with original broadcast or syndication, because TNG started penetrating popular culture like The Original Series did and drawing in people who weren’t necessarily science fiction fans.”
It’s also helped that Patrick Stewart has had such a successful career, both inside and outside of nerd-dom.
George Takei and Wil Wheaton have probably helped fuel Star Trek nostalgia too – but there may be a chicken-and-the-egg situation with them. What has unequivocally fueled nostalgia for Trek is the rebooted movie franchise, even if fans’ reactions have been varied.
“The success of Star Trek (2009) has ensured that the powers that be will continue to support the franchise, and either way that’s good news for Trek fans,” Sonnenberg continued. “If you liked the films you can hopefully expect more in the same vein, and if you didn’t like the films then they are at the very least keeping Star Trek in the public’s mind.”
Another sign of this is convention attendance, which got a shot in the arm after the 2009 film. Champion attended at a convention five years ago where a panelist asked how many people were attending one for the first time.
“Easily half the hands went up,” he said. “There are a lot more young people and families with young people. And just from a merchandising point of view, if you look at the last five years, it’s not the reboot toys that are selling incredibly well: it’s the OS stuff.”
Give me some candy or I’ll shoot you out the torpedo tube
Of course balancing the desire for nostalgia with the need to keep the franchise moving forward is a delicate act.
“It’s the ever-challenging paradox of making the familiar new again,” Payne said. “Star Trek has, baked into its DNA, the promise of continued expansion — meaning that to be true to itself, it also has to push its own boundaries: ‘to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations — to boldly go where no one has gone before!’ In other words, it has to boldly go where no Trek has gone before — but it has to do so in a uniquely Trek fashion. It is a universe with boundless imagination and possibilities.”
AND lots and lots of awesome fight scenes
In parts 2 and 3, we’ll watch the watchers with in-depth looks at Mission Log and SF Debris. If you can’t wait that long, feel free to watch “Who Watches the Watchers.” But regardless, share your favorite examples of Trek nostalgia in the comments below.